But in the view of the Deputy Chief Whip of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Rotimi Abiru, state police is what we need to bail Nigeria out of its numerous security challenges.
Abiru, who is representing Shomolu Constituency 2, is also not happy that the country is not getting it right after so many years and he believes that the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government would change the fortunes of Nigeria for the better from 2015 if the party wins the presidency.
The soft-spoken lawmaker was a guest of the journalists covering the LSHA at their weekly ‘Time Out With The Press’ where he speaks on several matters of interest.
Why is it that politicians are keen about power, and is it true that politicians go to offices because of the interest of the people or for their selfish aims, I want you to answer this as a Muslim?
Public office ought to be about service to oneself, service to your constituents and to the nation as a whole. When you get to the House of Assembly, for instance, your status changes because your being a lawmaker comes with some pecks of office. Whether you like it or not, life changes, you have some personal benefits, also you need to know that public office is about holding the office in trust for the people. As lawmakers, our primary responsibility is lawmaking; we carry out oversight functions, we represent our people to the extent that you are their spokesman, you would be their mouthpiece here on things that bother them. But because of the level of poverty in the country, the people you represent, rather than coming to you with communal issues, they come with personal challenges and issues. My father was a politician, I remember that once we voted for somebody in those days, we never went back to demand for anything from him, this never crossed my mind. The work of a legislator is not a plum job, for some of us that have attained unemployable age; we seek for one office or the other.
The constitution actually defined the tenure of office of some public office holders, for instance as an elected executive Governor you could only serve for two terms, but for a legislator you can serve for as long as your people want you here. With the experience I have here since 2007 in the 6th Assembly and I am serving in the 7th assembly, I intend to offer myself to serve here again. It is about continuity, the longer you stay the more you can lobby the executive to get things to your constituency, above all it has to do with your people back home, as long as they want you to represent them and you, then you can be here, and would realize that election is a process. You would agree with me that except for some of us that have the interest of the people at heart, people don’t view politicians serious, people feel we are a bunch of corrupt people, but it is not so for everybody. We know that you would be accountable to the people or your creator, so whoever finds himself in this position should use it to serve the people. Power is sweet, everybody wants to have a taste of it, but it is given to you in trust, irrespective of the power given to you, you have to be humane and human in exercising it.
I want to know your views about state creation in Nigeria
In my opinion, I think that Nigeria having 36 states has enough, of course I know why people are agitating for more states, they want governance to be closer to the people, the other reason could be for political, we need to know that the cost of governance in Nigeria is a bit on the high side. We have seen what happens to the Federal Government budget, we see that the amount allocated for recurrent expenditure outweighs capital expenditure. Of course, having more states would make government closer to the people and we would realize more potential. But, I think what we need to do in Nigeria is to have more devolution of power, where we will operate a true federal structure, we are a federation only by mouth, but in terms of practice we are not practicing it.
I think we have had opportunity with the confab, the reports have been submitted to the presidency, but the conference shied away from certain things, for instance, the issue of derivation was pushed back to the presidency, it leaves so much to be desired. Even the timing of the confab is suspicious, this administration has been on for sometime, but they waited till election time before organizing the conference. I hope we will know more about the report, when it is made public. Of course, some of the recommendations are against the National Assembly and they may jettison it. Also, we cannot say the report is the best for us; there is need for us to look at the way we live together as a people. We saw what happened recently, when Scotland attempted to move away from the United Kingdom, they went through a process and a position was canvassed why and why not and at the end of the day, we saw something that is transparent that reflected the wish of the larger society. But of course, it has given a signal and Great Britain would have to look at some issues such as representations and all that. There is nothing wrong in us coming together to examine how we live together because a certain section of the country feels superior to others.
To what extent has your family name, Abiru helped your political career?
I actually lost my father in 1996 and I lost my mother five years ago, I am now a complete orphan. Of course, the name has been well preserved, it is a Lagos name, I am a full fledged Lagosian, and thank God my brothers and relatives have preserved the name. It is important for me too to actually preserve the name for generation yet unborn. May the soul of my father rest in peace, we give glory to God for his life, my father actually gave us the education that we needed, he was a strict man and a civil servant because he served as a judge in Lagos State before he moved into politics. It was due to his forthrightness that the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo made him to serve the people of Ikorodu at the senate at that time. The name must have actually helped me a bit, but it has not influenced anything for me.
What have been your experiences as the Deputy Chief Whip of the House, and also sitting is never done in time, what are you doing to correct this anomaly?
As lawmakers, certain things are expected from us such as the way we carry ourselves and dress and right from the time we were voted in, the House had an induction programme for the members, where the dos and don’ts of the House are read to us. However, at any point in time, we cannot afford to have brand new members, it is good for some people to return to the House to guide those coming, our being here is not about self, but good governance for the people of the state. The ethics committee has actually not had much to do in this assembly about deviant behaviours. In terms of timeliness, it is a challenge to us, it does not mean that we cannot improve, but our work is not what you see on the Assembly alone, nocturnal meetings are held till late hours. Sometimes, when we adjourn and people go to sleep, we do not enjoy as much sleep as others, we meet till late in the night. Sometimes also we have August visitors that we need to attend to and sometimes certain things happen like, when people protest to the Assembly, despite the fact that we have scheduled plenary, we have to attend to them and this affect the timing of the House.
Recently, the Governor of Sokoto and Sultan of Sokoto made a call for the creation of state police, now that the call is coming from the north, what is your opinion?
I am an apostle of the creation of state police, we realized that in the developed world there is policing in communities, counties and states, and they are all working towards the common goal of safety of lives and properties and prevention of crimes. With what we have experienced in the last few years, I do not see any reason state police should not be embedded in our constitution. Presently, the Nigerian Police does not have enough manpower to man the population of this country, also I doubt if our arms are up to date. If you look at the welfare of the police, it leaves much to be desired, I wonder how we expect our police to deliver as he is not protected in terms of insurance, he does not see himself having free education for his children, and now if you look at the remuneration of the police, I don’t think they are anywhere to be found. But the states have come to the rescue, take Lagos State for instance, in the last four years, you would see that the level of crime has reduced because of the support the state government gives to the police through the Lagos State Security Trust Fund and this has actually helped, they provide vehicles, equipments and gadgets to fight crimes, we even bought Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) for them.
Let us imagine if Lagos did not support the police with all these, the answer would be obvious. Those who are against state police said that state governments would use them against their opponents during election period forgetting that institutions have to be empowered. Let us take for example that a particular Governor comes and he tries to oppress his opponents with the state police, it would be a matter of time, once the institution is well established, all these would be a thing of the past. A police from a state would know the nooks and crannies of the state and where criminals are hiding. But, when a policeman is posted from another state, it would become very difficult for him to know all these as he would have to settle down first. The issue of state police should be encouraged, and the state governments too should be conscious, it should not be a tool to oppress the opponents or those who do not support them. It can be very harrowing if there is a security issue in a state and the Governor calls the Commissioner of police only for him to be waiting for a signal from somewhere before he responds that is not good enough.
I want you to tell Lagosians why you think the wind of change should not blow in the state. I would like you to take a critical appraisal of the efforts of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and that of BRF and why you think the APC should come back in 2015
As it is, I am a member of the APC; you would not expect me to speak negatively about the party. But I have to be objective here today; we have states that are being governed by the PDP, APC, and APGA in Nigeria today, I heard that NLC are saying they want to take over the Labour Party. If you go all over Nigeria and see what states have achieved in terms of infrastructural development, you would give it to Lagos State. For those of you that travel outside Nigeria, I want to say that Lagos is more popular than Nigeria as some people keep referring to the Governor. I am proud to say that I am part of that government, yes, nobody talks about the legislature, but the Governor does not work alone. If the Governor does not enjoy the support of the legislature, for instance, I am not sure he would be able to achieve the much that he has achieved.
In APC, what we saw in the last eight years is a rare model whereby the Governor of the state concentrates more on governance and service delivery, while the leaders of the party actually do the politicking.
Yes, it has not been without its challenges because some of us politicians are not favourable to this model. But, we are all proud to say we are members of the Lagos State Government. We must be ready to pay the price for the good governance. Sometimes, politicians complain of not enjoying stomach infrastructure, for instance, but you would see that the multiplier effect of what the government is doing is to the benefit of the people of the state. So, it is better if the government does not combine political power with that of his office, the last man that combined that is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and you would agree with me that he laid the foundation on which the present government is building. If you look at the role of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in bringing the oppositions together, you would give kudos to him, more than before, the opposition is waxing stronger. If you compare what you have in Lagos with other states that enjoy derivation and supports from the Federal Government, you would give kudos to us for standing on our own because I can say it that only few states can stand on their own if the Federal Government stops the allocations to the states.
I want to appeal to the Federal Government that all the 36 states have the legitimacy to be part of the government. Irrespective of the party in any state, I think the government of the state should be given an appropriate chance. I want to give example of Osun State, in the build-up to the election, for reasons we didn’t know, allocations of the state were held back and it was obviously political to make things difficult for the governor so that he could incur the wrath of the people. He actually owed salaries because of this before God came to his rescue. I think the Federal Government should see itself as the father of the states, you would remember that former president Olusegun Obasanjo tried to hold us to ransom in Lagos, when we created new local governments and he withheld money meant for local governments in the state. If it is possible for us to make a law to compel the Federal Government to give to us what is meant for us in terms of allocation irrespective of party, I think we should do so. We saw the way the late president Musa Yar’Adua was detribalised, he gave support to us, where it was needed. That is why we in the APC are craving for the wind of change in the Federal Government so that what we are doing in Lagos and APC states can be replicated in Nigeria as a whole.
You have been in politics for sometime, what do you think is wrong with the average Nigerian politician. Is it that they are not principled or that the political parties are ideologically barren? One wonders why politicians move from one party to another anyhow
Politics is a special trade or calling in Nigeria, there is saying that ‘in politics, there is no permanent friend or enemy, but permanent interest,’ and some of us politicians take this as motto. That may be why we find it very easy to move from one party to another and you would agree with me that our democracy is still growing; it would take some time for us to be matured politically. I was born into a progressive family, my father represented the UPN in his lifetime and I have ever been with the progressives and I don’t pray to see anything that would take me away from the midst of progressives. I believe that there are some other ways to serve the people rather than having an elective position. Politics is about service, sometimes we hear that when politicians run out of money, they want to approach the man that has food on his table, but this does not speak well of a good politician. Prominent names are being mentioned in this, but it could be that you could be entrenched in a party, where you are recognized, and you want to move. But of course, we should base our political activities on principles and ideologies, and that is the only way any politician can be taken seriously. I am sure by the time we are able to entrench our democracy, our politicians would see the need to be principled.
Having been part of the local government system, do you agree with the call for local government autonomy?
The issue of autonomy for the local government is a constitutional problem because it makes the local governments an appendage of the state, where creation, funding and administration lies in the state house of assembly. Our constitution does not guarantee local governments to be autonomous. The arrangement we have now is better for proper monitoring. For instance, if the local government is under the Federal Government, who does the oversight, are we going to bother the National Assembly with the issue of performing oversight on local governments. You would see that we in the state house of assembly oversight the local governments, but how can someone, who does not even know where a local government is situated perform oversight on it. It would be very impossible and difficult to do this. I think we are better off here, and there is need for the local governments to be more independent of the states, not just Lagos but in all other states. You realize that it is the executive that is controlling local governments in some states of the federation.
I think some of the people that run the local governments are matured enough, the case of Lagos State is special because the issue of the Local Council Development Areas is there, as it were, the LCDAs are not yet listed in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The entire local governments should even be taken out of the constitution, if they say because they have not been listed, then they are not recognized, you ask yourself whose job is it to list them. Once the people of a state have gone through the process of referendum and they have agreed, it is left for the National Assembly to list the councils. We should allow states to develop at their pace, I mean what is wrong with a state like Benue, for instance, to produce food for the entire country, what are they bothering about. How can Zamfara State, for instance, enjoy from the fat incomes from breweries, when they don’t consume beer in the state because of Sharia Law, must we forcefully put ourselves together. What do we need a minister for education for, if any state appreciates what it is, they would pay attention to education. if you go round the country, you would see uncultivated land all over the place, why can’t we concentrate on food production.
I would want to know the motivation of the Abirus as they are always on top. Also, if you happen to be the speaker of the Assembly in 2015, where another Abiru is the Clerk of the House, how would you cope?
To God be the glory, we are from Lagos State and it is about service, we are very lucky to have our father, he taught us discipline and prudence and this has reflected in us. The man in the judiciary is a professional, he is in the Court of Appeal now and he was one of the best in Lagos at that time. The other man that was commissioner for finance in Lagos State got to the position on merit, he was never a politician and for him to leave the position for the bank is enough to know that he is a man of good character. We are from a humble background and we have decided to keep the flag flying. The Clerk of the House, Segun Abiru is a civil servant, my path would not cross his path even if God destines me to be the Speaker of the House in 2015.
Some weeks back, the South African Government seized about $9.3 Million from the Nigerian Government, recently we heard about the seizure of another N5.7 Million, what do you think is the implication of this to the nation?
The issue is most unfortunate; it is surprising that we are confronted with this kind of embarrassment. These are money in cash in a country that is promoting cashless economy, we have good relationship with South Africa, why would the government want to do business with South Africa or a company there and they are using cash, do we see that as a faster way of doing business, when we can do money transfer. Also, what is the source of this money, was the money budgeted for, where is the money coming from.
Also, why did we want to buy arms from South Africa and the government of the country is not in the picture. It leaves so much to be desired and I am not sure if those involved have been mentioned, and why was a private jet used to convey the money, why are government officials not involved in the transactions, it can be seen clearly as a case of money laundering. It is important that the presidency comes out to explain to Nigerians the controversy surrounding the transactions. This is part of what we say about the PDP-led Federal Government, so there is need for a wind of change to blow the PDP Government away.
Democracy was put on trial in Lagos in August, when a local government chairman shut the door of the legislative chamber of the council and this assembly ordered him to re-open the chamber, but ridiculously, the man did not carry out the order. When he was summoned by the House, some lawmakers wanted an immediate sanction on him, but we heard that the House was afraid to do that because of some power, in your view, does this House has teeth and if it does, can you bite?
It was a challenging period for us as a state; it is part of the ingredients of governance. I think there is need for us to have independent candidates whereby we would not be bound by party principles and ideology. But for the fact that we represent a political party here, it is important for the party to play a role in the challenges that face any organ of the government. The party intervened at that time and we were made to understand certain things. The man came to the House, but we were on recess, he met with some principal officers, but he could not meet all of us. He agreed that he erred, as we are talking, the chamber has been opened and they have elected a new leader. The House saw reason with the party, but we have not made a final pronouncement on the issue and the tenure of the councils is running to a close. What the man did is going to be on record, this does not mean that we only bark, sometimes we bite.
You would recall when tolls were going to be introduced on Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge, the House came hard on the executive, we prevailed on the government then until part of the things we requested for were done. That we are a legislature means we have independence, but we are inter-dependent on other arms government. We quarrel on issues sometimes, and these might not be known to the press. But, we would not antagonize other arms of government, when there is no need, and the man that has been leading the House for the past eight years understands the system so much such that we are adjudged the best legislature in Africa.
Most Nigerians would say they hate the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, but it is like we don’t have a viable opposition in the country. Your party, APC is trying to feature Muhammadu Buhari or former vice-president Abubakar Atiku as presidential candidate, don’t you think your party would lose if it features any of these people?
I disagree with you that we have just two aspirants; I want to believe you mean two leading aspirants; Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar. The beauty of democracy is that there is a choice for us to choose who we want as our party’s candidate. The party has come up with clear cut guidelines on party primaries and there is a portion of the constitution of APC that recognizes consensus candidacy. But in a situation, where we are not able to reach a consensus, we will go for party primaries. We have about 300,000 delegates that would gather to choose our presidential candidate. There is an electoral act that prescribes how parties should conduct their affairs, party candidates must emerge 90 days before the election. Soon, we shall be having primaries for states legislators to the National and then presidency.
I want Nigerian to see if what we desire for the country is being met at the moment, what we are experiencing in Nigeria is not the country of the dream of people like my father. Are we enjoying good governance, look at the money laundering to South Africa, has the government tried those that have been found to be corrupt. I will work for our party to ensure that we chase the PDP-led government out of the centre and in the states. We will not vote for President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, he has not declared his intention actually, but I heard he has been adopted by PDP Governors, I wish Nigerians would go out there to vote out the PDP in 2015.